We must have debate

Now that our better-paying manufacturing jobs are moving offshore, we’re starting down a whole new “free trade” path.

Now that our better-paying manufacturing jobs are moving offshore, we’re starting down a whole new “free trade” path: sell our ore bodies, oil sands, natural gas reserves, and forests directly to foreign national governments, while allowing those same governments to import their own lower cost workers to Canada to extract our resources and ship them home.

This new approach to trade begs for full public debate before we commit to selling any more of our resources to foreign national corporations and to the exploitation of temporary foreign workers to extract our natural resources.

For a start, Prime Minister Harper’s proposed free trade agreement with China (FIPPA) must be subjected to full public scrutiny and debate, inside and outside of Parliament.

Free trade, on principle, should only be formalized between liberal democratic nations whose people share the same basic rights and freedoms. Do Canadians want to support a nation with a track record of exploiting workers both at home and abroad by offering up unfettered access to our natural resources?

The recent admission by the BC government that thousands of temporary Chinese workers will be heading to northern coal mines raises a related issue that also demands more public attention and debate. How much of the Premier’s jobs strategy will require this importation of temporary workers, and how well equipped are we to protect these workers?

The ongoing saga of the Chinese workers who were killed in an Alberta oil sands accident in 2007 clearly illustrates how weak our laws are. In this case a Chinese national company was not complying with engineering and safety regulations, in addition to not paying workers their full wage.

If we’re going to import workers to export our natural resources, how do we ensure those workers have the same rights and protections as all British Columbians? We must enforce our own regulations to prevent China, and other national governments, from importing their weaker labour and environmental laws.

These public policy debates need to take place now.

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